Pasta

Nutmeg pasta

Posted in Pasta on November 15th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

Oh how I wish I had this recipe back when I had an excess of nutmeg!

There’s not really much to it, but a magazine cover in the grocery store was making me hungry for pasta with cheese, and even though the picture looked like your everyday Parmesan-on-spaghetti, I still had to go looking to see if there were any inspirational ideas out there. Not only inspirational, but “A Eureka Pasta Moment” is what I found.

His Eureka Moment was using a big of pasta water to make the cheesy sauce. Mine was the nutmeg addition.

al dente

I’m going to get a little controversial here but I feel like this phrase is overused these days. I’m not referring specifically to this person but I see it all over when I’m looking at pasta recipes and get the feeling people are throwing it in just to sound good. I’m pretty sure I first heard “al dente” used in an Olive Garden (or similar) commercial as a kid and it exploded from there. At the same time my mom had taught me that spaghetti’s done when it sticks to the refrigerator – I wonder if there’s an Italian word for that.

According to the Wikipedia, “Keeping the pasta firm is especially important in baked or “al forno” pasta dishes, which will be baked.” Beyond that feel free to cook your pasta as mushy as you like. I’ve been throwing it in, setting the timer, and walking away my entire life without a problem so maybe I’m just defensive that people are turning the easiest meal in the world, short of ramen noodles, into something that can be done “wrong”.

Actually I have to admit pasta can be done wrong, only because I had a boyfriend in college who didn’t know to boil the water first, and made us very wrong, soggy macaroni and cheese. “Al dente” would be a good cover for a bad cook on the other end who makes crunchy noodles though, just like I used to my burnt food “blackened”. (Don’t be offended. I’m making fun of myself!)

Oh look, pictures… there’s some butter melting in the pot.

Trying to pretend to be healthy, I cut up some fresh spinach. Normally I used frozen but this was some Andrew bought that I knew was going to be forgotten about.

This is my version of “freshly grated”…

And by magic it’s a plate of spaghetti!

With nutmeg on top… really. It was quite good. The nutmeg added enough flavor that you could easily cut back on the cheese, but who eats pasta not expecting it not to contribute to a future heart attack?

Happy Pi Day

Posted in Dessert, Eggs, Pasta, Pie on March 14th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

For any non-math-geeks, March 14 = 3/14 = 3.14 = Pi! A day to be celebrated by eating pie and other foods that come in the shape of round.

Andrew and I host a yearly Pi Day pie party, but being on a Monday and during his finals week we planned this year’s to be small and low-key. So for a mini-party I decided to make mini pies. My lesson this weekend, between the cupcakes and the pies and quiches, is that making things smaller isn’t necessarily easier than making them normal sized. More trouble than it’s worth, you might even say.

First, I used the silicone bakeware my mom sent as a gift to try out small raspberry pies, since I happened to have a large bag of raspberries in the freezer already.

Of course the recipe is given for a full-sized pie so I had to guess and cut it to 3/4, thinking that would fill two. I used:

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups raspberries
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

I upped the tapioca slightly since the three-quartering came out to an awkward almost two tablespoons and I read that people tended to add more to keep the pie from getting runny to begin with.

These are actually meant to giant muffin pans so stuffing a pie crust in there wasn’t easy. Pie pans are shaped like pie pans for a reason I guess.

Directions:

  • Mix together the raspberries, sugar, tapioca, lemon juice, cinnamon and salt until raspberries are well covered.
  • Pour into 9 or 10-inch pastry shell. Dot with butter, top with crust.

Turns out that 3/4 of a recipe fills exactly one cup, so I mixed up another batch exactly the same.

I totally forgot about the butter until it was too late, and realized later that lattice crusts are for cherry pies not raspberry. Well it saved me from rolling out another crust because I could just use the scraps left over.

  • Bake in a preheated 425 degrees F oven for 15 minutes, then at 375 degrees F for 25 minutes.

The worst part was not being able to taste-test ahead of time, although the lattice crust let me sneak a knife in and taste the filling.

Not pretty, but yes it tasted better than it looks.


Next I attempted to make some mini-quiches using these adorable little tart pans I picked up at Bed Bath & Beyond a while back, right after Andrew and I went to Pie in Fremont and were obsessing over the idea of making mini pies ourselves. I used the pans themselves to cut out the crust circles so the crust didn’t go all the way up, but i didn’t think that would matter for something so small.

I used my original quiche recipe for the base (3 eggs, milk, margarine and flour) and planned to add different ingredients to each set of two. After making the first two, the traditional broccoli and cheese, I noticed a problem…

My pans had pop-out bottoms and were leaking.

I added aluminum foil under the crusts, and was even able to salvage the filling from the first two, but they were determined to leak foil or not. I threw it all in the oven and hoped for the best.

It’s like flat quiche with a side of omelet… Left to right that is smoked salmon with onion and parsley, bleu cheese and asparagus, and broccoli and cheese. I had high hopes for making single-serving sized freezable qiuches for work lunches but I’ll have to find a better pan. Maybe that one above with the raspberry pies will do!


Finally I planned to recreate Pie’s macaroni and cheese pie. I originally intended to use the other two cups in the silicone set but I didn’t know how to get the already-cooked pies out without making a mess. So I gave up on the mini theme and brought out the regular pie pan.

I basically used the baked macaroni and cheese recipe I wrote about recently, and baked it in a pie crust. I poured the pasta into the empty pie pan first to get an estimate (around half a box), used one egg and a large handful of cheese from each bag. Then I topped with Panko which also served as a “top crust”.

Again we had to wait to try the finished product.


Now for the best part of making pie… I had all kinds of leftover crust bits to make my favorite part of pie… more crust! Tradition as a kid was always to roll out the leftovers, top with cinnamon and sugar, and bake on a cookie sheet.

The other great part is you no longer have to worry about making it look pretty or stick together, as long as you can get it on the sheet. Andrew didn’t grow up with this tradition but he doesn’t seem to have a problem helping himself either.

Mmmm… pie (crust)

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Posted in Cheese, Pasta on February 12th, 2011 by admin – 1 Comment

It’s surprisingly hard to find a good baked macaroni and cheese recipe on the internet. I think it’s because they tend to be either of the “easy” (a.k.a. Velveeta) variety, or they add something strange to justify being Yet Another Recipe for something everyone is expected to already know how to make.

The first recipe I had tried was an Alton Brown recipe on the Food Network. It looked relatively safe, is the reason I own mustard powder, and I learned to temper an egg.

I remember Andrew’s reaction was, “It’s rather oniony”.

“Does that mean too oniony?”

“Yes.”

I think we both dutifully ate a plate, left the rest in the fridge for a day, and then threw it out.


I finally got a good, and by good I mean – I’m already giving away the ending – but the best baked macaroni and cheese I’ve ever eaten, which will otherwise be known as Aeravon’s heart-attack-in-a-pan.

Ingredients:
1 lb box of Macaroni (elbow) noodles
1 lb each of 4 flavors of cheese (we use Mozzarella, sharp cheddar, mild cheddar and colby jack) Note: a mix of colors makes the final product look nice, and we use the mozzarella specifically for stiffness and a great “cheese pull” effect)
2 eggs

In the grocery store Andrew kept questioning, was that really a pound each or maybe that was supposed to be a 1-pound mixed bag. A side note said that could be cut down to 3/4 of a pound (each) for a still-cheezy but less deadly effect. Since I’ve recently converted myself to this Barilla Plus pasta – which is healthier than regular pasta, not as healthy as that whole wheat stuff (but what good is healthy when it’s not edible?) – which comes in a little under a pound box, I bought four packages of a little under a pound of cheese each, sticking to the original recommendations.

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
Boil noodles as direct on package. While noodles are boiling cut cheese into 1/2 inch squares. Drain noodles, then mix the noodles with the cheese squares in a very large bowl (you do not have to mash the cheese blocks prior to this, but you you can if you like).

So if I had been paying attention I would have realized the cheese didn’t need to be shredded in the first place. I had thought that much cheese was definitely somewhere I was allowed to cheat and buy the packages. Or maybe I’m still getting to cheat because I don’t have to cube it!

Using my largest mixing bowl I was able to add… two packages of cheese…

and then had to dig out my soup pot because it was the only container in the kitchen big enough to hold it all, let alone mix.

Add the 2 eggs, mix until everything is well covered (with egg).

Optional: During the mixing step you can add meats (ground turkey is nice), tomatoes or top with bread crumbs just before you put it in the oven for a little extra crunch.

Ground turkey sounds like it might be worth trying in the future but I wanted to be authentic to true macaroni and cheese for the initial test. Bread crumbs however I think are traditional so I sprinkled some panko on top.

Bake approximately 20-25 minutes until top is golden brown and cheese is well melted. Let rest for a few minutes for the mass to solidify before serving if you desire.

As I said, I already gave away the ending – this was the best macaroni and cheese I can ever remember having, and I’m not just gushing because I know the owner of the recipe is going to read this. It’s exactly what I was looking for – true baked macaroni with no Velveeta, onions, or hot sauce. It might even be cheesy enough to cover up the taste of real whole wheat pasta.

Yummy detail shot makes me sad we actually ate this all last weekend.

Dirt-fish and shell-stuffed shells

Posted in Pasta on January 14th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

I said I was done with tilapia but we found some coconut-crusted tilapia fillets at QFC. Andrew picked one up so I did too. He cooked his and liked it. I cooked mine the next day and… yep, still tastes like dirt.

And this, again, is why there’s backup pasta.


I got excited a while back over some giant shell-shaped pasta. Shells are my favorite pasta shape, and while I know these are meant for making stuffed shells, I figured I’d cook a couple and eat them like regular pasta just for fun. Better yet, stuff big shells with normal shell pasta for shell-stuffed-shells!

That’s the kind of thing you only try once before it loses its novelty.


I’m still looking for a good stuffed shell recipe that doesn’t use marinara sauce (which may be a lost cause) but in the meantime I discovered ricotta cheese. I could pretty much eat the stuff out of the tub if I let myself, so instead I find myself making pasta just to be able to eat ricotta on it.

The first recipe I found was “Ricotta and Pasta“…. does this even count as a recipe?

  • Make some kind of pasta.
  • Put some amount of ricotta cheese on it.

If I had known that was allowed I would have posted my “put parmesan cheese on spaghetti” recipe on the internet years ago!

This is what I’m cooking these days to get my ricotta fix. I’ll call it… Ricotta and Pasta and Spinach.

Ingredients:

  • “Shaped” pasta (not “lines”)
  • Frozen spinach
  • Chopped garlic
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Parmesan cheese

Instructions:

Boil the pasta as per directions on the box. Drain and set aside.

Thaw some frozen spinach in the microwave and drain the excess water. The recipe I was inspired by expected you to think ahead and have it already thawed but that turns out to not be necessary. Frozen spinach is great to have around and always available.


For some reason when I took this picture I used a separate pan.

In the same pot the pasta was cooked in I melt a small amount of butter and cook the garlic, then add the spinach. Put the pasta back in and add ricotta and mix all together until the cheese is warm. Top with parmesan, or mix it into the pot as well to get good and melty.

By the way it’s a bad idea to use the same spoon that helped drain the spinach to scoop the ricotta, but I keep doing it anyway. Then I have to go back and carefully pick out any bits of spinach so I don’t freak out over the green specks in my cheese the next time I use it.

I Only Changed Everything

Posted in Pasta on October 27th, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

I’ve noticed a trend on Allrecipies where someone reviews a recipes based on their own changes, good or bad, or straight up gives a low rating because of their own mistakes. (When yours is the only 1-star on a page of raves, you might want to look at your cooking first.)

This isn’t an actual review for mashed potatoes, but it might as well be:

    Two stars out of five
    I ran out of sour cream so I used mayonnaise, and I don’t like potatoes so I used squash. I substituted margarine for butter, and used garlic powder instead of fresh garlic. It was pretty good but tasted too much like squash, so I’m only giving it two stars.

This one is an actual review for a grilled steak which said to marinade for about three hours:

    One star out of five
    I marinated this meat overnight and it was much too strong and overpowering.

So if I was to write my own review on this Fettuccine with Garlic-Herb Butter I’d say,

    Five stars out of five
    “This was great! I only changed almost everything.”

In fact I just let myself be inspired by the recipe, and didn’t read it through until I came back to write about it.

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces dry fettuccini pasta
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper

Directions:

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.

I started with fresh fettuccine, not dry, and cooked until done. Then it sat in a strainer while I reused the pot the pasta cooked in to save on dish washing.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 teaspoon butter. Add garlic and cook for 30 to 60 seconds or until garlic begins to turn golden.

I melted a small, health-conscious amount of butter in the pot and added a couple cloves of chopped garlic. Then added more butter when it became clear what I started with wasn’t going to cover the noodles. I let the butter brown while the garlic cooked.

In a small bowl, combine parsley, basil, marjoram, thyme, 1 tablespoon butter, salt and ground black pepper with cooked garlic; mix well. Toss with pasta and serve.

Wait, the herbs were supposed to go in yet another bowl? And butter in two places?

I mixed some freeze-dried parsley into the garlic-butter on the stove, a sprinkle of thyme, and may or may not have added a dash of Italian seasoning. Marjoram was optional and I don’t have basil. Then the pasta goes back into the pot and “toss” with a wooden spoon.

Top with fresh parmesan and I guarantee it’ll come out better than the first reviewer’s:

    Two stars out of five
    This recipe was ok.